Friday, April 27, 2007

With Role Models like these. . . Part Deux

Two incidents resolved this week establish that coaches’ skullduggery occasionally extends into non-revenue sports as well.

On Tuesday, Boston College Women’s Ice Hockey coach Tom Mutch resigned, according to this statement, “to pursue other career interests”. Gene DePhilippo, the Athletic Director, commented that "Tom Mutch brought our women's ice hockey program to a new level and built a strong foundation for the future. We wish him the best in his future endeavors."

Coaches who post 24-10-2 records, win coach of the year honors, and bring their team to their first final 4 ever do not, however, resign “to pursue other career interests” if there is not a deeper story:

Hockey East Coach of the Year Tom Mutch, 39, who’s married and whose wife just had a baby, abruptly stepped down hours after the Herald began making inquiries to authorities at the Heights.

Sexually graphic text messages that BC hockey star Kelli Stack, 19, allegedly wrote to Mutch were discovered on a cell phone the Hockey East’s Player and Rookie of the Year gave to a teammate, neglecting to delete them first, sources said.

One source familiar with the messages described them as “filthy. They were very sexual in nature.”

The official line emanating from the BC athletic department did not survive for a day:

But in a statement released to the Herald last night, Gene DeFilippo, director of athletics, said, “We take this matter very seriously.

“Boston College Athletics began an investigation of the alleged incident as soon as it was brought to light. Coach Mutch subsequently submitted his resignation and his resignation was accepted.”

Leave it to The Heights, the Boston College student newspaper to provide the best commentary on the situation:

For Boston College athletics, the past few years have been marked by a number of triumphs and successes in tournaments, rivalries, and key wins across the board. From football to basketball to hockey, the Eagles have been a force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, in recent memory, nearly every accomplishment amassed on the turf, hardwood, and ice has come with incidents of misconduct or unethical behavior off the field. The recent scandal surrounding former women's hockey coach Tom Mutch is just the latest in an onslaught of negative publicity for the University generated by the athletic department over the past 10 years. . . .

Though this steady stream of bad publicity is certainly frustrating and overwhelming for both students and administrators, athletics play a major role in the image and community of the University.

The success of BC's athletic programs undoubtedly builds unity among students and fosters school spirit. It brings alumni back to campus regularly. It puts BC in the national spotlight on many occasions. . . .

Nonetheless, something must be done to stop this negative attention. It is embarrassing and marginalizes academics and other non-athletic pursuits. Something must change. Athletics should be something for students, alumni, and fans to rally around. It should be a source of pride for the University. It is a shame, however, that negative events such as these tend to overshadow all the good of the program.

It is a shame, as well, that the Athletics Department managed to handle this matter so clumsily. Meanwhile, on the left coast, Stanford swimming coach Skip Kenney has finally received his slap on the wrist for not merely kicking people off the team who he did not like, but erasing their existence from the record books. He will serve a two-month unpaid suspension, which conveniently comes right at the end of spring practice, and will end just before the recruiting season commences. A fellow blogger has created this comic anti-tribute to coach Kenney. Here is some serious commentary:

Stanford University – predictably and cravenly – attempted to close the scandal of men’s swimming coach Skip Kenney’s doctoring of team records with the announcement that the head of a program with a streak of Pac 10 championships dating back to the Reagan administration has been suspended … for two months of the offseason. . . .

Jason Plummer, Michael McLean, Tobias Oriwol, Rick Eddy, and Peter Carothers were among the Stanford student-athletes who defied Kenney in various ways over the years; McLean, for example, once exercised his right to take an internship rather than practice full-time in the summer. As a result, they saw their accomplishments erased from the Cardinal record book. . . .

In the antisocial swamp that so much of American sports has become, we sometimes forget that corruption, warped values, and sick behavior aren’t confined to our most celebrated spectacles. Readers of this space know that I believe some of the most revealing cues aren’t even on the playing field; they come from the coverage of sports by market-grubbers like ESPN, and by entities that technically don’t even fit the definition of sports, such as World Wrestling Entertainment.

In Kenney’s case, we see confirmation that esteemed institutions of higher learning don’t play dirty only in the “revenue” sports of football and men’s basketball. While these may be the prime examples of a fish that rots from the head, there are well-heeled coaches and hacks all the way down the line with an interest in rationalizing and romanticizing a win-at-all-cost ethos. It would be more accurate to say that, at Stanford and on other high-powered campuses, all sports are “revenue” sports, distinguished only by whether they are existing high-revenue sports or wannabe high-revenue sports. . . .

Correcting Stanford’s records in future editions of its media guides is not good enough. The university has a moral obligation to proactively publicize the corrections, and thanks to its deep-pocketed benefactors, the Arrillaga family, it has the resources to make things right. Kenney, athletic director Bob Bowlsby, and president John L. Hennessy should dispatch appropriate apology letters to the victimized swimmers – and release them to the press and put them up on the web. The new media guide should publish not just the re-re-airbrushed records, but also these apologies. Finally, parallel errata should be inserted into all old media guides in the athletic department archives.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for such a high-minded brand of academic justice. Indeed – as they say on the pool deck – you’re well advised to breathe on both sides.

Boston College and Stanford are, of course, two institutions whose overall reputations do not require any burnishing by athletics success at any cost. Why, then, have they immersed themselves in this cesspool?

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